Tuesday, May 23, 2006

'You are the boss! You own Serie A'

Gabriele Marcotti listens in on the phone-tap scandal engulfing Juventus...

Let us pretend that you are an ambitious executive at a big club. You are relatively successful, but you are not satisfied. You know you can do much better, even though some of your rivals have more money. So what do you do? Well, if you do not mind occasionally stepping on to the wrong side of the law, you may wish to follow the alleged methods of Luciano Moggi, the Juventus general manager, who, over the past decade, appears to have turned Serie A into his personal fiefdom.

The first step is to accumulate power. And in football that comes in different guises: money, influence over the FA and the League, control of players and referees. You have some money, but not enough to control everything financially, so it is best to focus on the other elements.

The head of the League is elected by the clubs. The head of the FA is also, effectively, determined by the clubs, in the sense that they exert influence over who gets the job. Thus, it is essential that you befriend as many clubs as possible, particularly smaller ones, because their vote counts as much as those of the big ones.

The way to do this is to do them favours. Start by loaning them players and talk up the brilliance of their chairmen at league meetings.

Moggi, talking to Andrea Dalla Valle, a Fiorentina official, when the club was in danger of relegation with two weeks to go: “The problem is you didn’t come to me sooner. See, you didn’t know how things worked and you were hurt by it. Let’s see what we can work out so that you’re treated fairly from now on.”

Once your man is elected to run the FA, make it very clear that he owes his job to you and must do what you say. If he steps out of line be firm and swift in your response.

Moggi talking to Innocenzo Mazzini, vice-president of the Italian FA, after Franco Carraro, head of the FA, talked about more “transparent” refereeing: “Tell him not to bust our balls. Better yet, I’ll talk to him and put him in his place.”

The referee selectors are crucial. They need to pass the message on to the officials that, if they make mistakes that hurt your club, their careers will be going nowhere.

Moggi talking to Paolo Bergamo, one of Serie A’s two referee selectors, complaining about Pierluigi Collina and Roberto Rosetti, the officials, whose refereeing was too “objective”.

“If you don’t punish Rosetti and Collina, all the other refs will feel entitled to do as they please. We don’t need them breaking our balls!”

Some officials will nevertheless be independent and want to apply the laws of the game. When that happens, you need to get tough. Assaulting them after a game and locking them in the referees’ dressing-room is one way to do it.

Pietro Ingargiola, a referee assessor, talking to Tullio Lanese, head of the Italian referees’ association, after Juventus’s controversial 2-1 defeat away to Reggina: “He [Moggi] came into the dressing-room and was furious. He berated Paparesta [the referee], stuck his finger in his face and then locked him in there! It was crazy! Don’t worry, though, I’ m not saying a thing about it. I don’t remember anything and I didn’t see anything. But it was mad, I tell you!”

You will need parts of the media on your side as well. It is a good idea to pick out a few favourite influential journalists and give them little treats: gossip, bits of news, interviews with your star players. The press can be very servile. Use the carrot-and-stick approach to get your way. In exchange, they will attack your enemies and defend your friends.

Moggi talking to Aldo Biscardi, presenter of a popular football show, after a 0-0 draw between Juventus and AC Milan, in which Andriy Shevchenko was controversially denied a penalty appeal: “You need to lay off the referee in this one. You either say the referee was correct in his decision or you don’t show the images at all and gloss over it.”

Over time, referees will get wind of this system and realise that it is in their best interest to help you out. Making favourable decisions is one way they can help, but there are other effective ways they can do this. One painless method is booking players who are one yellow card away from suspension the week before they face your team.

In the 2004-05 season, 25 players picked up their bans in the week immediately before they faced Juventus. Tony Damascelli, a journalist, congratulating Moggi after two Bologna defenders received bookings that banned them from facing Juventus the next weekend: “Great job! You took out half their back four!”

Sadly, some foolish people will get wind of your methods. You need to make it clear that, while you accept that not everyone will like you, those who speak out need to be punished.

Moggi speaking to Antonio Giraudo, the Juventus chief executive, after Zdenek Zeman, the Lecce manager, had complained that Moggi was running Italian football: “We need to deal with him, we need to beat him up. We need to make him haemorrhage, that’s what we need to do. We’ll invent something, we’ll mess with some of his players.”

Control over players is essential. To do this, create a football agency and get your 32-year-old son to run it. Hand-pick partners for him, such as the scions of powerful families.

Moggi’s son, Alessandro, was the chief executive of a company called GEA World, whose partners were Chiara Geronzi, the daughter of Cesare Geronzi, the head of Capitalia, Italy’s second-biggest bank, and the financial institution of choice for many clubs who relied on its credit to stay afloat, and Giuseppe De Mita, a former Lazio official and son of a former Italian Prime Minister. GEA represents about 200 footballers and managers in the Italian game.

Once you have set up your agency, your control over smaller clubs will be consolidated. You can now place players and managers where you please, knowing they will do your bidding.

Stefano Argilli, the former Siena midfield player voted player of the year in 2004-05, was forced to leave the club last summer. “Our new manager was GEA, our general manager was GEA, half the team was GEA,” he said. “It was clear to me that if I wanted to stay, I would have to sack my agent and join GEA as well.”

If you do all this, people will fear you and respect you. Your enemies will feel powerless.

Mazzini, the vice-president of the Italian FA, speaking to Moggi: “You’re the boss of the Italian game! You own Serie A!”


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